Heavy infighting between rebel groups as Syrian govt takes control of Hama
Heavy infighting broke out between the Ahrar al-Sham and Jund al-Aqsa rebel groups in the Hama countryside, as the Syrian government gained control of key strategic areas in the northeastern province of Idlib.
Jund al-Aqsa, a US-designated terrorist organisation, launched a series of attacks against the Salafist Ahrar al-Sham opposition group as fighting continues between a coalition of Syrian rebels and the Assad government.
In response to the infighting, more than 13 Syrian rebel groups belonging to the Free Syrian Army released a statement condemning Jund al-Aqsa’s attacks against Ahrar al-Sham and “declaring war” against the group.
Ahrar al-Sham described Jund al-Aqsa in a statement as being a "surrogate" of the Islamic State (IS) group, saying that its fight against the group is a fight to "rid the revolution of extremists and infiltrators".
Jund al-Aqsa also released a statement on social media saying it will continue its campaign in Hama. The group stressed that it was willing to enter an arbitration process governed by Islamic law to resolve its dispute with Ahrar al-Sham.
Reports on social media have stated that the Syrian government has taken control of the city of Hama.
Many social media users put the blame for this recent development on Jund al-Aqsa’s infighting with Ahrar al-Sham, a clash that has reportedly killed many fighters on both sides.
Jund al-Aqsa was designated a terrorist organisation in September by the US after it began taking control of key areas belonging to the Syrian government.
However, discussions are still being held by various foreign powers about whether or not to designate Ahrar al-Sham a terrorist organisation.
Speaking to On the Ground News after the group captured the city of Hama from the Syrian government, a Jund al-Aqsa commander described the US as its “enemy” after it was designated a terrorist organisation by the State Department.
The Free Syrian Army have also said that an "offensive" is being planned to break the siege of Aleppo. In a video circulated widely on social media, an FSA commander declared that an "offensive to break the Aleppo siege will start soon".
The FSA commander added that: "All rebel groups will participate under one leadership," citing groups ranging from Ahrar al-Sham to former al-Qaeda affiliate Fateh al-Sham.
Jund al-Aqsa, formerly known as Sarayat al-Quds, was formed in 2014 as a sub-unit within Fateh al-Sham, when it was known as al-Nusra Front and still affiliated to Al-Qaeda.
The group later became independent after al-Nusra suffered heavy blows to its resources after fighting IS.
Since coming into existence, Jund al-Aqsa has been criticised by other rebel groups after it had reservations about fighting IS militants, and for remaining affiliated to al-Qaeda.
The group is also alleged to be predominantly comprised of non-Syrian Arab fighters.